John Updike, |
(Fawcett Columbine, 1994)
This is one helluva book by one helluva writer.
John Updike is, of course, well known as one of America's best writers of literary fiction; his novels have gathered such honors as the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. I've read several of his short stories and novels, but nothing I'd read prepared me for Brazil. Updike wrestles with that steamy mass of land and wrangles out of it the mythic love story of a young couple, spanning two decades and a country.
When young, pampered, white Isabel Leme meets young, poor, black Tristao Raposo, they are instantly attracted to each other. In many ways, their attraction is based on opposites -- on the clash between rich and poor, black and white. However, their attraction, while sexual at first, is so overwhelming that they decide to run away to get married. Their love is predestined; nothing can keep them apart.
Updike uses the romance of Tristan and Iseult for his tone and basic situation, but the vast country of Brazil creates the exotic backdrop for the trials that Tristao and Isabel endure in their struggle to overcome the hardships placed before them. From the economic and industrial chaos of the growing cities to the primitive jungles of the hinterlands, Brazil itself becomes a symbol for the young couple. Updike's writing is powerful, sexual and intricate; he delves deep into the psychology of sexuality and love.
This is not one of those "one-sitting" novels. I suggest that you read it slowly and carefully; Updike's language will make sure of that. Each layered metaphor creates subtle resonances within the novel -- the effect is a mythic fable of devotion and sacrifice well worth the effort.